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Novel Writing and Revising Checklists

Updated: Sep 3, 2019

By Kelly

Since I just finished the novel I’ve worked on for 28 years (not my first but definitely the most involved), I thought I’d put together some checklists that helped me get there.


Novel Writing Checklist

  1. Write first for yourself, then worry about the audience. SK

  2. Writing is about telling the truth. AL

  3. The success of the communication depends solely on how the reader receives it. JRT

  4. Never throw anything away. You’ll be surprised by how often something that’s not working can be used later. GG & LK

  5. There are two reasons a story doesn’t work: The concept isn’t strong enough, or the execution isn’t strong enough. LB

  6. Story doesn’t supersede structure; story is structure. LB

  7. A story is how what happens affects someone who is trying to achieve what turns out to be a difficult goal, and how they change as a result. LC

  8. Story is about an internal struggle, not an external one. It’s about what the protagonist has to overcome internally to solve the external problem. LC

  9. Each scene needs a main point, a cause and effect, an emotional reason it matters and a realization. It should also lead to the next scene. LC

  10. Conflict + Action + Suspense = an emotionally satisfying experience JSB

  11. LOCK your story (Lead worth following, Objective, Confrontation and Knock-out ending). JSB

  12. Every scene should have the three Os (objectives, obstacles and outcomes). JSB

  13. All action scenes need reactions. Each reaction needs emotion, analysis and decision. JSB

  14. Make characters have secrets that impact other characters. JSB

  15. Have your main character obsessed with something. JSB

  16. Inner conflict: For each intense emotion your main character feels, have them feel the opposite emotion at the same moment and then react physically. JSB

  17. Dialogue: Use unique voices, subtext, opposing agendas and sidestepping. JSB

  18. Dialogue: Have an authority figure, a rational person and an irrational person in each exchange. JSB

  19. Use short, telling details. JSB

  20. End each scene either in the middle or with a physical, verbal or emotional cliffhanger. JSB

  21. Every scene needs action, dialogue, specific intimate details, inner point of view and a definite start and end point. BS

  22. Stretch all moments of action, emotion and fear with slow motion, inner thoughts, dialogue and description to increase tension. JSB

  23. Don’t use interpretive language. Tell the reader what happened, and they’ll interpret. JM

Novel Revision Checklist

  1. Never use a long word when a short one will do. GO

  2. If it’s possible to cut a word, cut it. GO

  3. Use active voice. GO

  4. Avoid clichés. GO

  5. Omit needless words. S&W

  6. “Murder your darlings”, or cut sentences/passages that don’t work, even if you love them. AQC

  7. Add conflict to any “just talking” scene; characters should be on different sides. JSB

  8. If a scene has an obvious setting, try an opposite setting. JSB

  9. Do a Control-F for “very” and words that end in “ly” and delete. JSB

  10. Dialogue should speak for itself. Don't dress it up with adverbs and italics. RB & DK

  11. Tighten, sharpen and brighten each sentence. JRT

  12. Each sentence should have clarity, speed and impact. JRT

  13. Cut 25% of the words in each sentence. JRT

  14. Act like each word costs money to use, and only keep exactly what you need. JM

  15. Diagram every sentence to justify each word. JM

  16. If the sentence works without “that,” cut it. JRT

References

  • On Writing by Stephen King

  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

  • Writing with Style by John R. Trimble

  • Writing a Novel and Getting Published for Dummies by George Green and Lizzy Kremer

  • Story Fix by Larry Brooks

  • WIRED for Story and Story Genius by Lisa Cron

  • Conflict & Suspense by James Scott Bell

  • Creative Writing: The Craft of Plot” by Brando Skyhorse

  • Writing Your Story” by Joyce Maynard

  • “Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell

  • Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

  • “Murder your darlings” – advice from Arthur Quiller-Couch to a Cambridge class

  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

  • Editing Your Own Prose by John R. Trimble

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